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Is pepperoni pizza the best? or what are objective and subjective claims

14 Oct

pepperoni pizza

Is it an objective statement or a subjective statement to claim that something is the ‘best’?

At first glance, given the topic of pepperoni pizza, we might rush to conclude that this is a subjective evaluation totally determined by the speaker’s preferences.

And we would be correct if we take him to mean that he likes pepperoni pizza the best out of all other pizzas.  In other words, for him, this particular style of pizza is best.

But in another sense, this could also be an objective statement, a matter that can be evaluated as TRUE or FALSE.

If I stand up at my middle school where I teach and proclaim that pepperoni pizza is the best, I am sure to meet with counter claims to the contrary.  We have plain pizza lovers and sausage pizza lovers as well as those weird people who like anchovy pizzas!

All kidding aside let me explain how in one sense it could be a true statement to affirm that pepperoni pizza is the best.

The key is in defining our term, “best”.

A Logical Joe or Jane knows enough to ask when encountering any claim that something is “best”, What do you mean by “best”?

Miss America

Take the Miss America pageant where every year, judges select the ‘best’ qualified gal to represent the ideal young female American.  There are objective criteria with rubrics or scales that judges use to quantify and justify their decision.  You might not agree with the judges’ objective statement of reality for the year: “Susie Smith from Oklahoma is the BEST qualified to be this year’s Miss America”.  About the most you can say at that point is: “For me, I prefer Janie Jones from Texas. I think she best embodies Miss America.”

So to say something is best can be both an objective statement and a subjective statement of reality.  It depends on where the criteria reside.  Can they be supported by ‘reality’ or are they dependent on the subject making the statement?

And just what is ‘reality’?  In the beauty pageant world, reality is defined by what the judges agree to in advance.

Here are other examples of how saying something is best can be an objective statement of reality that is agreed upon in advance:

  • Auditions for roles in movies or plays: The casting director picks the ‘best’ actor for the part.
  • Auditions for sports teams and orchestras: Who is ‘best’ at hitting home runs or holding down the 1st chair violin spot?
  • Interviews for jobs:  Mr. Peter Parker was the ‘best’ qualified for the job (but I liked Mr. Dan Douglas the best)

So let us beware of the facile dismissal of the predicate ‘best’ as merely subjective.  We are, after all, capable of holding two things in tension.  Just because they might appear to be contradictory does not mean they are so. Language allows us to make distinctions and that is a hallmark of all Logical Janes and Joes.